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RFID Border Tracking Plagued By Low Read Rates

The US Department of Homeland Security has decided to cease using RFID in its US Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program after the technology's read rates proved inadequate.
Tags: Defense
Feb 20, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

February 20, 2007—The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has decided to cease using RFID in its US Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program after the technology's read rates proved inadequate.

The DHS has trialed RFID over the course of 15 months by issuing I-94 documents with an embedded tag. I-94 is for foreign nationals visiting the US and includes information about the holder's country of origin and legal status within the US. The tag held a unique identifier associated with biometric information stored separately in a central DHS database. The idea was that the tag be scanned as the I-94 holder exited the US at any of five reader-equipped border crossings with Mexico and Canada. The scanning would allow for an efficient process whereby the DHS could automatically record the I-94 holder's exit from the US.

Unfortunately, seamless automatic scanning was not achieved in practice. A recently-released report from the Government Accountability Office cites one instance where over the course of a week a mere 14 percent of 166 tags were correctly identified. The goal was 70 percent. "While RFID technology required few facility and infrastructure changes," reads the report, "US-VISIT's testing and analysis at five land POEs [ports of entry] at the northern and southern borders identified numerous performance and reliability problems, such as the failure of RFID readers to detect a majority of travelers' tags during testing."

Read rates weren't the only problem. So-called "cross-reads", in which multiple RFID readers at a border crossing pick up an individual's I-94 tag, also hurt the system's performance. The cross-reads meant that an individual's exit from the US might be erroneously recorded as an entry, and vice versa.

Aside from the performance issues, the GAO report also highlights a larger, substantive issue with respect to DHS adoption of RFID for the US-VISIT program. Apparently the technology does not meet a key goal of US-VISIT: biometric assurance that the individual identified on the I-94 is the same as the current holder. "By design, an RFID tag embedded in an I-94 arrival/departure form cannot provide the biometric identity-matching capability that is envisioned as part of a comprehensive entry/exit border security system using biometric identifiers for tracking overstays and others entering, exiting, and re-entering the country. Specifically, the RFID tag in the I-94 form cannot be physically tied to an individual. This situation means that while a document may be detected as leaving the country, the person to whom it was issued at time of entry may be somewhere else."
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